Drug abuse -- particularly of marijuana, LSD, PCP and inhalants -- has increased significantly among Howard County students in the past two years, a survey by the Maryland Department of Education has found.
The Maryland Adolescent Survey of sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders found that Howard students drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and abuse drugs at about the same rates as their peers across the state.
Alcohol and cigarette use by Howard students is falling slightly, but the students have joined the national resurgence of marijuana and LSD abuse. Use of these drugs among Howard high school seniors doubled from 1992 to 1994, according to the survey.
"That's alarming, because you have kids leaving high school with these high rates of drug use," said Frank McGloin, director of the county's addiction services center. "The drug use is likely to continue into college or wherever they're going."
Mr. McGloin and other Howard drug-abuse experts said the survey's results correspond with problems among youth they've been seeing in county treatment programs recently.
Some Howard students contacted yesterday said they weren't particularly surprised by the results. Many say drug and alcohol use is common even inside schools.
"The bathrooms often reek of marijuana, and you can see people coming to school drunk all the time," said Sara Ratcliffe, 14, a freshman at Howard High School.
School officials -- who last week were praised by President Clinton for Howard's drug prevention programs during his visit to the county -- refused to discuss the survey results yesterday.
Although the state released the data late Tuesday afternoon, Howard school officials said they would not comment until they formally presented a copy of the numbers to the county school board next week.
The board is scheduled to receive the report but not to discuss it.
Nevertheless, county drug experts already conclude that the survey shows that Howard County is not isolated from the drug problems plaguing more urban areas and that funding must continue for education programs that repeat drug-prevention messages.
"What we need to do is take the same messages we've been focusing on alcohol and cigarettes and focus on other drugs, too," said Joyce Brown, coordinator of the county's substance-abuse programs.
Ms. Brown cited the nearly across-the-board declines in alcohol and cigarette use -- in Howard and statewide -- as evidence of that recent efforts to educate students about the dangers of those two drugs have succeeded.
For example, the survey found that the percent of Howard 10th-graders who had smoked a cigarette in the past year declined almost 10 percentage points to 32.5 percent. Alcohol use in the past year also dropped significantly for sixth- and eighth-graders.
Among the survey's other findings for Howard County students:
* The percent of students who used PCP -- the hallucinogenic drug known as angel dust -- in the past year doubled at all grade levels.
* The percent of eighth-graders who have smoked marijuana in the past year almost tripled to 13.1 percent.
* Use of the highly addictive cocaine derivative known as crack cocaine also rose at all grade levels.
* More than 40 percent of high school seniors -- and almost one in 10 eighth-graders -- have had five or more servings of alcohol on the same occasion in the month prior to their being surveyed.
* More than one in 10 sixth-graders have drunk some form of alcohol in the preceding month.
* Inhalant abuse -- the sniffing of paint thinner, sprays, aerosols and gasoline -- increased among sixth-, eighth- and 12th-graders and is higher than the state average. The percent of 12th-graders who used an inhalant in the past year almost doubled.
Inhalant abuse tends to be a cyclical geographic trend, Ms. Brown said, rising in different areas of the country every few years. She said it is particularly dangerous because aerosol cans are accessible to students of all ages and aren't recognized by parents as being dangerous.